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Electronic notebook for a PhD student

Posted by Rory on February 15th, 2012 @ 10:33 am

The goal:  a paperless PhD

Mark Hughes, a first year PhD student at Edinburgh University whose research focuses on better understanding of neuronal networks, had a novel idea:  to do a ‘paperless’ PhD.  The reason was simple: “The potential exists to do almost everything electronically so why complicate matters with paper?”

The right lab

Luckily for Mark, one of his supervisors, Professor Mike Shipston, head of the Centre for Integrative Physiology at the University of Edinburgh, was already using the eCAT electronic lab notebook.  Mike introduced eCAT to Mark and suggested that Mark use it from the outset of his PhD.

Issues to consider

Mark was concerned about three issues in particular:

  1. Experimental design
  2. Where to store his data
  3. Backing up the data

How Mark uses eCAT

Mark uses eCAT “as a  place to articulate thoughts (e.g. experimental design, planning a supervisor meeting) and as a place to summarise (and sometimes store) findings and important data.”  So it solves the first of his two issues.  The eCAT he uses is installed on computers in the Shipston lab, which takes care of data backup, so his third problem is also solved.  If Mark used the free Personal version of eCAT, a cloud service hosted by Axiope, his data would be backed up nightly by Axiope, so again this issue would be taken care of.

How eCAT helps Mark

Mark says that eCAT helps him in three ways:

  1. It serves as a daily reminder of scientific theory . . . why am I doing this experiment?!
  2. It’s also an electronic repository for his thought processes.
  3. He can store data in eCAT or link data to it.

You can view Mark’s presentation, “eCAT for a 1st year PhD student“, here.